Anti-Vaping Propaganda in Schools Undermines Critical Thinking and Spreads Dangerous Misinformation

Students should avoid e-cigarettes because they "have chemicals in them," a lesson warns.


In response to the "epidemic" of underage e-cigarette use, public schools are deploying the tried-and-true method of lying to children about the hazards of drug use, because how could that possibly backfire? A misinformation sheet about vaping, published by the Florida-based Nemours Foundation and distributed to eighth-graders at my daughter's school in Dallas, illustrates this approach, making scary claims that can easily be debunked by anyone with an internet connection.

The handout, written by Florida physician Lonna Gordon, repeatedly conflates legal, nicotine-delivering e-cigarettes with the black-market cannabis products that have figured prominently in the recent outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries. After incorrectly defining e-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco and do not burn anything, as "battery-powered smoking devices" (emphasis added), Gordon says they use "cartridges filled with a liquid that usually contains nicotine."

In the next paragraph, Gordon warns that "experts are reporting serious lung damage in people who vape, including some deaths." Later she says "e-cigarettes…may cause serious lung damage and even death" and reiterates that "recent studies report serious lung damage in people who vape, and even some deaths." There is no evidence to support such claims with regard to legal nicotine products.

"Even if you don't vape every day," Gordon says, "you can still get addicted. How quickly someone gets addicted varies. Some people get addicted even if they don't vape every day."

As far as Gordon is concerned, you can be addicted to a substance even if you use it only occasionally, which suggests that any pattern of drug use is indistinguishable from addiction. That does not make much sense, but it's convenient for alarmists who warn that e-cigarettes are hooking an entire generation of young people on nicotine, even though frequent use remains rare among teenagers who don't smoke.

Gordon claims "studies show that vaping makes it more likely that someone will try other tobacco products, like regular cigarettes." What the studies actually show is that teenagers who vape are more likely to try cigarettes than those who don't vape. The causal interpretation that Gordon presents as a fact is a matter of dispute, since pre-existing differences could account for this correlation. The weight of the evidence, including the fact that smoking has fallen to record lows among teenagers as e-cigarette use has surged, indicates that vaping is, on the whole, replacing smoking rather than promoting it.

Even if teenagers vape nicotine-free e-liquids, Gordon says, they should still be worried, because those fluids "have chemicals in them." You know what else has chemicals? Everything kids eat, drink, and breathe, not to mention the kids themselves and every object they interact with.

These silly warnings, which echo pseudoscientific anti-vaping propaganda from government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, might scare some especially credulous teenagers away from e-cigarettes. But at what cost?

If schools want students to believe and act on the health advice offered in class, they should try telling the truth. As it is, they are perverting science education and undermining critical thinking while spreading potentially dangerous misinformation. If e-cigarettes are as deadly as Gordon implies, students might reasonably conclude, maybe they'd be better off smoking, even though that is indisputably a much more dangerous source of nicotine. For students who see through this nonsense, the main message, as with drug "education" generally, is not to trust people in positions of authority, which is a salutary lesson but probably not the one that schools are trying to teach.

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  1. Will someone please beat the shit out of this fraudster Laura Gordon?

      1. Too late. Now you have to live with that innocent woman’s blood on your hands.

        1. What’s one more?

          / I keed. Maybe.

          1. +1 Why? It comes off with soap.

  2. After incorrectly defining e-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco and do not burn anything, as “battery-powered smoking devices”

    Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As anybody knows, some battery powered devices (laptops, Teslas) have overheated and caught fire. So it is quite possible that e-cigs can become “battery powered, smoking devices”. It’s just a missing comma.

  3. “battery-powered smoking devices”

    Like it or not, it’s technically smoke.

    1. Technically smoke is the airborne byproducts of combustion, and since nothing in an e-cigarette is being combusted the vapor is technically NOT smoke

      1. If the chemicals are water soluble, then the byproduct is smoke on the water.

      2. Technically smoke is the airborne byproducts of combustion

        It depends on whom you ask, but chemically a smoke is just any fine liquid or solid particle suspended in a gas (ie synonymous with aerosol, IMO). I just looked at a few dictionaries and a lot of them do tend to go with the stricter definition as definition (a). A lot of those same dictionaries use the broader definition as definition (b). I can go along with the stricter definition and say that smoke only comes from combustion and is merely a type of aerosol, but it’s not necessarily wrong to say that smoke comes out of those “vaporizers”. The visible aerosol coming out of them is not a vapor, by the way.

        1. Do you call steam, smoke?

          1. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions is “fume or vapor often resulting from the action of heat on moisture”. So by that, steam is smoke.

            Truth is, it’s just hot water. And ice is just cold water.

            1. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions is “fume or vapor often resulting from the action of heat on moisture”. So by that, steam is smoke.

              ‘Smoke’ and ‘steam’ predate Merriam-Webster, in the chemical literature, by more than 100 yrs.

              1. ‘Smoke’ and ‘steam’ predate Merriam-Webster, in the chemical literature, by more than 100 yrs.

                That’s right. And the term smoke long predates the term aerosol. Aerosol is just the newer fancier word for it.

                1. Aerosol is just the newer fancier word for it.

                  No it’s not and, even if it is, it’s not because the dictionary says so. Car isn’t just a newer and fancier horse.

                  You’re torturing logic and sensibility to make your argument and it’s obvious. You seem to think that you’ve found an ‘gotcha!’ that the dictionary confirms you and the doctor. Instead, it makes you look like an idiot that doesn’t understand what a dictionary is or how to use it.

                  1. God Damn, the reason comments have turned to shit. You guys can’t even debate the definition of smoke without turning it into a nasty flame war.

              2. And ‘smoke’ and ‘steam’ predate the chemical literature by billions of years.

          2. The guy has to be a moron.

            “I looked in the dictionary and a lot of them disagreed with my preconceived notions but if I squinted hard at the wrong definition, some dictionaries didn’t explicitly disagree. So, based on my exhaustive search through the chemical literature. The emissions from a vaporizer could conceivably be called smoke.”

            1. I squinted hard at the wrong definition

              The second, broader, correct definition.

              The guy has to be a moron.

              What is it with you Republicans calling people morons at the drop of a hat? Are you all the same person?

              1. What is it with you Republicans calling people morons at the drop of a hat? Are you all the same person?

                Who says I’m a Republican? I’ve been registered as an independent voter for the majority of my adult life and my electoral record is minority Republican. Have you considered the possibility that you are, in fact, a moron?

                1. Being pedantic or being wrong about one thing does not a moron make. Most people are wrong for dumb reasons about something. And some people just love being technically correct.

            2. my preconceived notions

              By the way, I once was ignorant about this just like you. I too only considered smoke to mean the product of incomplete combustion, but then I had to read old science papers regarding smokes made from metals and other materials that were not formed by combustion at all, so discarded my preconceived notions and changed my opinion about the definition of the word smoke.

              1. Metals produce fumes or vapors going back into antiquity.

                I’m beginning to think you didn’t even read the dictionary.

          3. Broadly speaking yes. Fog, clouds, smog, etc. Sure.

          4. Do you call steam, smoke?

            Woops. No! The previous post was in haste. Steam is vapor, not smoke. You can have visible smoke associated with invisible steam, but steam is not smoke.

            1. Steam is visible.

              Or perhaps you can explain how steam turns to smoke.

              1. I was always taught that the strictly defined Steam is actually not visible, however as steam cools, some water droplets condense into small droplets that are still warm enough to rise, and that is what you see.

                And damnit, now I am commenting on this thread. WTF is wrong with me?

                1. I don’t know. But I can’t help myself either.
                  Strictly speaking steam is the gaseous phase of water. Which is in fact invisible. The white cloud coming out of your kettle is made of tiny droplets of liquid water. The little part before it turns white that you can’t see is steam.

            2. “”Steam is vapor, not smoke.””


              Steam is a fume or vapor often resulting from the action of heat on moisture. The heat is the heating element. The vape liquid is the moisture.

            3. I’ve never heard anyone say wow, it’s smokey in this steam room.

              But feel free.

    2. Here’s a crazy idea: words are sometimes used in different ways in different contexts.
      Is there really a technical definition of smoke? Seems like you would use other words if you want to precisely describe some particular gas/aerosol emission.

      1. Here’s a crazy idea: words are sometimes used in different ways in different contexts.

        Right, in a certain context, controlling statist shitheels use words to mean what they want them to mean and useful idiots agree with them.

    3. So we’re going to gloss over the fact that, given the other misinformation in the paper, the use of “smoke” was obviously intended to mislead, despite whether it is “technically” correct?

    1. And phones have done worse.

    2. That was supposed to be a reply to Unicorn Abattoir above

      1. Life imitates art.

  4. Schools telling children the truth? What have you been vaping , Mr Sullum?

    1. They tell the children their truth. Your truth might not be the same, as truth is subjective. Or something.

      1. It’s relative. The information “paradox” at the event horizon of a black hole is truly bizarre. The first 20 minutes of this lecture explain how a person can move past the event horizon of a black hole (the point of no return and no information can be transmitted beyond it) and to them everything looks tame and appears like no big deal (at first). That person is alive and well. To an outside observer, it looks like that person was vaporized by a wall of seething particles that’s billions of degrees. And they’re both observing reality. In the event horizon traversing observer’s reality there is no billion degree bath and they live and in an outside observer’s reality there is a super hot bath and the traveler is dead. Sorry, this has nothing to do with schools and vaping, but I just thought it was super interesting.

        1. So if you vape near a black hole, what happens?

            1. Wow. Vaping really is dangerous.

  5. “Doctor” Gordon is a fear-mongering slut. So much for science and all that shit.

  6. “Even if you don’t vape every day,” Gordon says, “you can still get addicted. How quickly someone gets addicted varies. Some people get addicted even if they don’t vape every day.”

    Similarly, few people sell their soul to the Devil in a one-off signed contract. Most sell it off piece by piece, one lie at a time, over the course of medical school and throughout their career and may not even realize on their deathbed that they’ve been walking around morally bankrupt, entirely without a soul, for years.

  7. Just be clear on where this is coming from. Over the past 35 years, states have been squeezing donors and tobacco companies to amass these huge war chests of public-awareness dollars. One of the most notorious is the Truth Initiative. That initiative has been propagandizing to students since 99, and picked up where the Truth Campaign- a program funded in Florida- left off.

    The Truth Initiative gets money from the Master Settlement with Tobacco and from donors, and multiple state governments. Consider that a minute- without big tobacco and big states, the Truth Initiative would not exist. In 2014, they were celebrating, and their message was “Let’s be the generation that finally ends smoking among teens”. And guess what? They largely accomplished their mission.

    So now you have a massive money-processing, media machine that has worked closely with and depends heavily on the Health Services departments of large states, prosecutors, and trial lawyers. And their reason for existing- Smoking among teens- has largely been successful. So the next step is for them to close up shop and head out, right? Right? No, they have found a new boogyman to justify their existence.

    1. This sounds right, but I still don’t know how encouraging teens to avoid nicotine to begin with is so dangerous to their health.

      1. It doesn’t just sound right… .it is right. They haven’t even bothered changing tactics or language. They immediately started pushing to ban vaping in public – with the rational that seeing people doing something that looks like smoking will re-normalize smoking, destroying their hard work to make smoking socially unacceptable.

        And it isn’t about encouraging teens to avoid nicotine. If that’s what they were doing, nobody would complain.

        They are an entire industry of boogie-man creating liars. This is what is important. So when they tell kids that vaping nicotine-free flavored cartridges from Juul is going to kill them, they are not helping, they are actually harming.

        Because if you are going to tell a lie that enormous, why would anyone listen to the truth? And there is truth in there to be had. Nicotine is an extremely strong habituant. So maybe you don’t want to screw around with it, even in relatively safe forms. Inhaling stuff isn’t generally a good thing, even if it is extremely safe when compared to smoking cigarettes.

        But nobody gets to extort billions from industry and government by saying “It is probably best to avoid nicotine in all forms, and while orders of magnitude safer than smoking, vaping still is not perfectly safe, so it is probably best to avoid vaping if you don’t need it.”

        When you teach things to kids that are not going to comport with their world experience, you run the risk of alienating them. And when you passionately advocate an indefensible position, you are absolutely going to drive kids in the other direction.

        1. +1 thanks for the response.

    2. “…So the next step is for them to close up shop and head out, right? Right?…”

      Needs repeating.

  8. Telling the truth about vaping to students would involve stating that vaping is a very bad choice for any person not currently and acutely attempting to kick tobacco, and a particularly poor judgment for minors.

    Along a similar line of proposed political correctness, should educators stop telling students to avoid unsafe sex, cigarettes, huffing, chewing tobacco, asbestos, payday lenders, heroin, and the like?

    1. I read this comment. I thought it was stupid and wildly ignorant and, frankly, kinda statist and bossy.

      So I read it again because generally the comments here are good. And then I read the handle.

      It is true, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” Even on something as simple as “don’t lie to kids” this wankasaurus manages to be wrong.

      1. How is it statist to tell people that a bad choice is a bad choice? That crosses into free speech realm. It is statist to force people into a choice. Not to tell people what choices are generally better for them.

        You want to screw up your life, go for it. But don’t come to me crying that you weren’t warned.

  9. I seriously doubt any kid today has faith in government published ‘advice’.
    Despite their political indoctrination, as far as their personal lives are concerned, their bullshit detector work pretty well.

  10. With all the racism and white supremacy being resurrected lately simply look up in your history books (real ones) and learn how and why cocaine and heroin were made illegal. Then print that finding in your local papers and no, Nixon did not create a war on drugs but he did make marijuana a narcotic in the same category as heroin. Go back to early 1900s…

    1. Also look up the roots of cherished progressive laws like min. wage.

      Not pretty.

  11. “Students should avoid e-cigarettes because they “have chemicals in them,” a lesson warns.”

    Not much need for an article after that statement.

    1. kEMikiLLS!

  12. “As it is, they are perverting science education and undermining critical thinking while spreading potentially dangerous misinformation.”

    Just like how the Democrats and their lackeys in the media have rolled since 2016.

    1. Since 2016?

  13. Wait a minute — Nemours, as in DuPont-Nemours?

    1. Who would know more about deadly evil chemicals?

  14. I wonder if public school are getting better or worse.

    When I was in school they taught us science theory requires that something be predictable and reliable. They rarely turned “it could happen” into a science but put it right there in fantasy land where it belongs.

    Then again – They also told us if you had premarital sex you’d get an std and die but never once did they try to follow that by saying it was science.

  15. The salient fact here is that we know the general order of magnitude of safety of e-cigarettes. The studies have been done. On an epidemiological level, we know that vaping is at a minimum 95% safer than cigarettes. That number is a few years old, so they may have moved it up a few ticks. The reviews I read said that the true number was probably north of 98% safer, but the sample sizes and confounding factors were such that the best number that we can guarantee as a minimum was 95%.

    So even if vaping would definitely cause a number of people to die on the spot, we know that if you were a smoker, vaping would still be a safer bet. 95% safer.

    Pulling out a few dozen people who have given themselves lung disease by using sketchy vaping products made by drug dealers doesn’t change that. Millions die from smoking. Tens or even hundreds might die from illegal vaping products. That does not put them in the same bucket. The CDC estimates that 3,000 people die each year from food poisoning in the USA. They’ve found what, 300 people who have gotten sick from vaping? Ever?

    What that tells you is you probably shouldn’t be vaping hash oil you got from the local dealer.

    Vaping is a critical tool for saving lives of people who choose to use nicotine. All this anti-vaping hysteria is killing people. That is not an exaggeration.

    It probably is a bad idea to get into vaping if you don’t already smoke. Even if you aren’t a middle school kid.

    Vaping materials for marijuana should be fully legalized so that reputable companies can produce the products and ensure their safety and the consistency of their quality and concentration.

    That would solve the problem. Banning flavored e-cigarettes is actually going to do the exact opposite of what they are trying to accomplish. More people will die from smoking cigarettes. And more people will die from using black market e-cigarettes.

    1. When you make utilitarian arguments, you’ve already conceded defeat.

      Maybe everyone should just STFU and let people live

  16. Back when I started college about 1990, some of the big druggies on campus would plaster their dorm walls with “Just say No” posters and other anti-drug propaganda to mock it, and even the goody goody types would drop in to do bong hits. Same will happen with anti-vaping: the more you tell kids not to do something, the more they will want to do it.

    Of course, this Y/Z post-millenial generation seems to be much bigger tools than we were and wants nanny government to think for them and protect them from everything: guns, climate change, now vaping too.

    1. Same will happen with anti-vaping: the more you tell kids not to do something, the more they will want to do it.

      Especially with something so harmless at pretty much all levels. It’s not like more hard drugs that you can OD on and it’s not even like other party drugs that you wind up being exhausted after taking. The prep, taste/smell, and cleanup aren’t even as bad as coffee. It’s like telling kids not to drink soda or eat candy because they might get addicted and die.

      1. Hell, even soda rots your teeth.

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